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The UK Government Responds on Hemp for Fuel Question: July 2004

Sent to Laurel Bush, True Hemp Campaign, Caithness laurelbush1952@hotmail.com

Crops for energy


Area 5A

Horseferry Road




Tel 020 7238 6000

Website http://www.defra.gov.uk/


Biomass fuel sources


Dear Ms Bush


Thank you for your letters dated 14th July to Patricia Hewitt MP and 16 July to Margaret Becket MP about growing hemp for biofuel production, both of which have been forwarded to this department for reply.


The Government recognises the important role that growing crops for biomass can play in helping to meet the Government's targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Government is also keen to promote the opportunities that biomass energy offers for farm diversification and supporting rural jobs and areas.


The potential for hemp to be used as a crop for biomass has been researched in the past. However, the consensus in the literature available suggests that hemp is not competitive with perennial crops such as miscanthus or short rotation coppice for biomass energy. For example, hemp requires annual nitrogen dressings together with maintenance dressings of phosphorus & potassium. As well as the economic costs of fertilisers, the environmental cost of fertilisers in terms of fossil fuels burned to create them is also an issue. This contrasts with miscanthus and short rotation coppice which require hardly any inputs. In addition, special harvesting equipment is required for hemp due to the height and fibrous nature of the crop.


Following an agreement on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers growing energy crops including hemp on both set-aside and non set-aside land in England will receive payments under the new Single Payment Scheme to be launched in 2005. An additional 45 per hectare energy crops payment is already available for crops grown on non set-aside land. Full details of this payment and the requirements for claiming them can be found on the Rural Payments Agency website at: http://www.rpa.gov.uk


Yours Sincerely,

Matthew Ashton

Bioenergy Policy Advisor


Lord Larry Whitty


Nobel House

17 Smith Square




From John Thurso MP, Ref 201499/CH, 28 July 2004, the following

From Lord Whitty, Ministry of Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy




Thank you for your letter of 28 June to Stephen Timms on behalf of a constituent about the non-food uses of hemp. I am replying as the Minister responsible for this area, and I am sorry for the delay in doing so.


Most of the hemp grown in this country is at present harvested for its fibre content and there is an EU processing aid regime for the fibre produced from flax and hemp. This Department is keen to encourage diversification into new non-food uses of crops and alternative uses for hemp may well be one way forward. We have just finished consulting on a Strategy for Non-Food Uses of Crops and after considering the responses received, will be publishing a final version in the autumn. In addition, Defra has set up the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) which aims to build sustainable supply chains for non-food crops. Its website is at http://www.nnfcc.co.uk/. The NNFCC is aware of work to trial a new "dual variety" of hemp, Finola, which can be harvested both for its fibre and for the oil content of its seeds. This particular trial is still in its infancy.


I presume your constituent is referring to hemp used as biomass when he or she speaks of it being able to meet our energy needs. This is an area where research leads us to be less positive. Up to now the consensus has been that hemp, as a spring sown annual crop, is not competitive with perennial crops such as miscanthus or short rotation coppice for biomass energy, although, it is possible that a dual variety, grown for seed and biomass, may yet change the economics of this. It is also worth noting that under CAP reform, with effect from 1 January 2004, it has been possible to claim an Energy Crop Payment of 45 per hectare for crops grown for an energy use on non set-aside land; it remains to be seen whether any farmers in the European Community will take up this option to grow hemp for energy purposes.


With regard to the "illegal" status of hemp, it is indeed correct that all varieties of cannabis, including industrial hemp, are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Home Office licences are required to grow it. However, a licensing system such as this has the advantage of protecting the status of bona fide operations. In addition, because a licence grants prior approval to growers of hemp for fibre, the EU Regulations allow a lower inspection rate for this crop, thereby reducing the burden for these growers. The Home Office has worked to ensure that both the administrative and financial costs of their licensing system have been reduced to a minimal level. There are no plans to stop licensing hemp cultivation in the future.


Your constituent might contact the NNFCC (telephone 01904 435182), if he or she wishes to discuss other potential uses for hemp further.